A visual recap of our annual Breakaway swimming hole trip through 21 photos (all which just happen to be vertical)! This year, Clay organized a day trip out to Iowa Hill in Colfax, CA per his coworker's recommendation. We spent the day hanging out at two different spots around the North Fork of the American River. The first spot included some small rapids that we took turns riding through on our floaties. This was our mini Raging Waters ride of the day. The second spot we found after lunch was on the way back to our cars along the river. It was an area closer to the Iowa Hill bridge, where the water was more calm, shallow, and perfect for floating around. I was able to snorkel around and find one fish. Overall, I would say that this swimming hole was very chill, mellow, and great for first-timers. Of course, it was also a very beautiful and scenic location by the river. Amazing job, Clay for bringing together 19 people for a fun day of swimming and splashing under the sun! My summer now feels complete.
Back in April, Clay and I managed to book the last campsite available at Mendocino Grove, a campground offering a modern camping experience. I had been wanting to plan a trip to the Mendocino and Fort Bragg area for a while now, so I was really excited that we could try out glamping for the first time while we were at it!
When we arrived Saturday afternoon, the self check-in was very straight forward. It was basically just a bulletin board with general campground information (e.g., wifi usage, breakfast hours) and a map with our name on it indicating where our designated parking spot and campsite was. Our safari tent (Navarro 2) was in its own little corner a fair distance away from the other two neighboring tents. Right outside our tent, we had our own picnic table, a set of chairs on the deck, and a fire pit. (Firewood was available self-serve at the campground for about $10 or so.) Inside the tent, there was a comfortable bed, a couple of dressers that served as night stands, a large lantern, a couple of extra blankets, and an awesome s'mores kit! We enjoyed the s'mores kit very much on our last night :)
Even though we still prefer camping and pitching up our own tents, we had a really nice experience during our stay at the Mendocino Grove...and we would happily do it again! Packing was SUPER easy and convenient. Next time, I'd probably bring more layers, a warmer jacket, a beanie, and my own water bladder. The campground was very thoughtful and actually had a couple wooden crates of water bladders for campers to use, but unfortunately it wasn't enough for everyone...so we didn't get to use one. There were also no outlets inside the safari tents, so I'd suggest bringing a portable charger. Though I believe the campground also has chargers available for checkout.
Overall, everything about the campground was pretty wonderful! The bathrooms were very new, clean, and well-maintained. There were outlets in there, so I was thankfully, able to use my hair dryer (didn't want to risk catching a cold!). They provided plenty of organic bath products and fresh towels for showering and for face-washing. The shower experience was for sure the best that I've had at a campground. In addition, just around the bathhouse, there was an area where they served drinks (coffee, hot water, & tea), as well as breakfast (fresh fruits, yogurt, & bars). Another amenity that Clay and I enjoyed were their giant hammocks spread out in the middle of the grove and campground. Now, just a couple more notes: 1) I would personally recommend booking for the summertime for warmer, more camping-friendly weather, especially since the campground is located near the coast. 2) Mendocino Grove is very family and dog-friendly; they have different safari tents that accommodate both groups! They also have Airstream options available for rent.
Finally, one of the best parts of our glamping experience was having the small coastal town of Mendocino be just a 5-minute drive away. Fort Bragg, a larger city along the coast, is also not too far away - just a quick and scenic 20-minute drive up north. If you're wondering what other activities there are to do or places to go eat, feel free to ask me. I have a whole list that I compiled!
Last November, Clay managed to book the very last campsite at the Furnace Creek campgrounds in Death Valley National Park. And a couple of weeks ago at the end of February, the elementary school I work at had a week of break, so we were finally able to go on our camping road trip! After Clay got off work on a Wednesday evening, we drove 4 hours to Bakersfield (where we stayed overnight) and woke up the next morning to drive another 4 hours to our campsite. Unfortunately, I caught a cold and got an ear infection at the beginning of that week, so it was a real bummer having to battle both of those while trying to enjoy our time outdoors. Despite all of that, I was very thankful for a much-needed time of rest and rejuvenation in nature. Death Valley was also a great change of scene from all of the Bay Area rain we had been experiencing.
Clay and I had some really good conversations during our road trip just talking about where we were currently at, as well as our hopes for the near and distant future. When we got to the campground, we were able to pitch up our tent and head straight to Badwater Basin, a giant salt flat that stood 282 feet below sea level (the lowest point in North America)! We spent some time walking around on the dry areas of the salt flat and then walked further until we were stepping over a thin layer of rain water that had collected on the surface of the basin. One of the first trips we had ever went on together back in August 2013 was to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Ever since then, Clay has always wanted to visit a salt flat post-rainstorm, so this was really exciting for us to experience! The reflection of the surrounding landscape on the water was beautiful. Of course, we took a ton of pictures thanks to our trusty tripod and ended up staying long enough to enjoy the sunset.
On our second day there, we started the day off hiking Mosaic Canyon, a 4-mile long out and back hike in a canyon with these really neat mosaic-style rock formations called breccia. Afterwards, we drove to nearby Stovepipe Wells Village and had lunch at their Toll Road Restaurant. Our next stop (after a one hour nap in the car) was the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. It was a lot of fun getting to switch into our sandals and walk to the highest dune, especially since we were the only ones further out in the dunes. We tried to imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to wander around this kind of wilderness landscape for forty years...pretty insane. After getting back from the dunes, we rushed over to Zabriskie Point just in time for the sunset and then drove to Dante's View to get a glance of the view overlooking Death Valley just before it went completely dark. If we had more time, I would have definitely wanted to go back to explore and photograph the area around Zabriskie Point more - there are some really amazing formations and magnicient views of the badlands there. For dinner, we went to Forty Niner Cafe at Furnace Creek Ranch.
On the morning of our third day, we hiked one short mile to see Natural Bridge, which is exactly what it sounds like (I have lots of pictures of this one above). Then we hiked at Golden Canyon until we we reached a view of the Red Cathedral. The very last stop of our trip was Harmony Borax Works, a historic site near Furnace Creek.
If you don't mind dry terrain, I would highly recommend visiting Death Valley to see its salt flats, sand dunes, and canyons. If we ever get to go back, here are some other places we'd love to explore:
-Racetrack Playa with Sailing Stones (need 4WD)
-Panamint Sand Dunes (8 miles)
-Desolation Canyon (3.5 miles)
-Fall Canyon (6 miles)
-Ubehebe Crater Loop (1.5 miles)
-Twenty Mule Team Canyon (2.7 mile one-way loop drive)
-Wildrose Charcoal Kilns
For our twelfth and final camping trip of the year, we went to Pinnacles National Park (just an hour drive south of Gilroy)! On the way, we were able to see another view of the Central California landscape - lots of rolling green hills, herds of grazing black cows, and old wooden farm houses. As we arrived at the park entrance to check in at the visitor center, we were even greeted by a line of wild turkeys crossing the road!
Since we checked in around 4:30pm, we only had half an hour to explore the park before sunset! The first spot we stopped by was Peaks View, a small area with a bench and a couple of fixed binoculars for looking at the pinnacles off in the distance. These pinnacles were formed as a result of volcanic activity from 23 million years ago and their subsequent erosion - the cliffs and peaks are all made of volcanic rock! Then we stopped by the Bear Gulch Nature Center area and decided to go on a 0.7 mile hike to the Bear Gulch Caves. We saw a couple big rock climbing groups on the cliffs (this park definitely seems like the place to go for some intense rock climbing). Once we reached the caves, it was completely dark, but that didn't stop us from putting on our headlamps and going inside for a bit! I don't think I had ever hiked an actual cave before. It was an awesome and sorta-scary experience. But it was also so fascinating - these talus caves were created by boulders falling into steep, narrow canyons, and forming ceilings and passageways over time! We definitely hope to go back and explore the rest of the Bear Gulch and Balconies Cave Trails. Here are a few notes about hiking the caves: Remember to go online to check the status of the caves (sometimes they may be closed due to flooding, severe weather conditions, and the protection of bat colonies). I also recommend going with more people during the daytime...and don't forget to bring flashlights and headlamps, because they will be needed!
As for the campsites, they are located in their own little area a few minutes drive away from the pinnacles. We stayed at campsite #25, which came with a fire pit, food locker...and a fearless raccoon.
Wow, I am still in awe that Clay and I have completed this camping-once-a-month goal for the year! But I am even more in awe of all the amazing county/state/national parks that California has to offer. This past year, we got a glimpse of so many of these parks, but there is still so much to be seen and experienced. Clay and I hope to continue camping at least 2-3 times a year in the future :) our new camping goal for life.
This month, I've been realizing how much of a blessing all these camping trips have been for me this year. There definitely have been many moments where I've found myself thinking, "Clay and I are way too crazy for wanting to go camping once a month for a whole entire year...this seems like a bit much...we are ridiculous...how are we going to make each trip happen?!" But each time as we leave for a weekend trip, I am reminded that there is so much to be thankful for.
I'm so thankful for Clay and his infectious love for the outdoors - for coming up with this delightfully crazy idea and making it all happen month by month. I'm thankful for the initiative he took to research and book all the 12 camping sites, rescheduling when conflicts would arise (usually because of my classes), planning and coordinating each trip, staying stress-free and flexible, always showing himself to be caring towards his fellow campers, and being a responsible, reliable, fun and adventurous camping leader.
I'm thankful for all the different people that we have been able to share our camping trips with so far. It's been amazing being able to spend time with so many of our friends from our church, Breakaway, as well as our college friends from Berkeley, and sometimes even both mixed together on some trips! Spending time with old friends and finding chances to make new ones is always enjoyable. I'm also thankful that we managed to spend more time with our families on some of these weekends camping trips too :) when we planned a trip for my family at Butano and had Clay's brother fly over and join us out in Yosemite!
I'm thankful for the rest that comes with each camping trip. My professor from my Spiritual Development and Assessment class this fall semester made a point to talk to our class about the importance of relaxation and play, which I know may sound so basic...but I oftentimes forget. This past year, camping has been an activity that has given me so much rest and renewal amidst busy weeks and hectic months. I'm so glad we blocked off time on our calendar and reserved weekends to allow time for that. (Also, rest that comes with exercise and that helps us to stay fit is a big PLUS.)
I'm thankful for the opportunity camping has given me to continue practicing my photography. I know on all of these camping trips I only have been using my iPhone, but I love just being able to take pictures for my own enjoyment. And especially pictures of nature! There's always a different scene to capture and I always appreciate the challenge of trying to keep each photo as natural and true to what I was able to see and experience in person. I'm grateful that camping gives me a casual and relaxed environment to pursue photography as my creative outlet.
I'm thankful for the time I get to spend outside with God's creation - such a gift this one is! Sometimes it's overwhelming for me to think that God has created a world with so much to see, but it helps to remember that there is so much to discover just around here back at home in the state of California! So many different landscapes from the deserts of Joshua Tree to the granite cliffs of Yosemite to the giant redwoods of Henry Cowell to the magnificent coasts of Big Sur to the waterfalls at Uvas Canyon. I absolutely love California and the many sights of creation that it has to offer. Each county/state/national park is so unique and special with its own quirks and I truly I hope that I was able to show that through my photos.
Anyway, I'll close with a quick recap of our trip this past weekend to Uvas Canyon County Park, which was just 35 minutes away from my house (so close!). After stopping by Trail Dust BBQ in Morgan Hill for some ribs and pulled pork, our group headed right over to campsite #15. Our afternoon consisted of a hike along the Waterfall Loop Trail, where we were able to see Granuja Falls, Little Falls, Upper Falls, Basin Falls, and many other smaller waterfalls. After finishing that loop, we hiked down the Swanson Creek Trail to Lower Falls. There were so many fall leaves, acorns, and tiny twigs on the ground and the autumn air was so fresh! It was also nice to constantly hear water gently running/falling, even from back at our campsite.
Overall, I think that Uvas Canyon is a great county park to visit with several family-friendly hiking trails and waterfalls to find during rainy season. It is very well-maintained with clean restrooms, shower accommodations, food lockers, campfire pits, and picnic areas. It's nearby location makes a short day trip or camping trip easy and convenient...I'll just say, even waking up at 4am to find that it had rained through our tent was alright, since we could just pack up and drive home within an hour! Also, yay for instant hot ramen.
Just capturing as I go.